Lemony Snicket: Teaching Tone and Plot


If I were teaching a course with the objective of students describing “tone” and “plot structure,” I might assign Lemony Snicket. The book adheres to a simple – here simple means predictable, but enjoyable – plot structure and adopts an informal, didactic and occasionally sarcastic tone. Characters are not developed, rather they are assigned single character traits from which they operate.

Despite what sounds like complaints, I enjoyed Lemony Snicket. I found the predictability of the plot, the evenness of the tone, and the simplicity of the characters to be… soothing. There is something reassuring about reading a book that sets out with the explicit warning that it will be a “disturbing tale,” all the while knowing – because the plot structure tells you so – that things will (in the end) work out okay. Similarly there is something enjoyable about forming a “contract” (see D.Coleman) between the reader and the text that says “this is the kind of book you will be reading,” and to have that delivered.

This book is not a triumph of character, plot, or theme. It is instead enjoyable for its tone and for its measured assurance that it is exactly what it claims to be.


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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

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